Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

[3 stars] [IMDB Link]

(paid link)

It's a sequel to a movie I watched in the theater nearly five years ago. And I wasn't overly impressed with that one! Nevertheless, I'd heard good things. And it is ranked as #26 on the IMDB list of the best movies of all time! Above the original Star Wars! Above Terminator 2! Above Gladiator and The Lion King! Above… no, I'll stop there.

It's long, clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes. Still, after a TiVoed Jeopardy! episode and a Simpsons rerun, I had time to fit it in before bed. So:

The main character is the winning Miles Morales, occupant of an alternate universe just slightly different than ours. He got the radioactive spider bite in the previous movie, displacing, sadly, the Peter Parker Spidey. But it introduced him to a raft of Spider-Folk from other universes, including most notably Spider-Gwen Stacy. She's back again, trying to help Spider-Miles defeat a new nemesis, "Spot". Spot has the uncanny power to create space portals, which can transport him and others to different locations instantly. And he's out for revenge against Miles for … gee, I just watched this last night and I've forgotten already.

Anyway, Miles' and Gwen's efforts bring down the wrath of something like the Spider Continuity Cops. Miles in particular has disrupted the "Canon". What's that? This I do remember but I'm not gonna tell you. Too much of a spoiler.

So after two hours and about ten minutes in, I was saying: boy, they're going to have to wrap this up pretty quickly. Ah, guess what? There's a big fat "To Be Continued" at the end.

It's more than a little heavy on the family drama. You want to say: OK, I get it already. Back to the action! But it's very funny in spots. And very visually imaginative. I'm sure I missed some extremely amusing sight gags because they were only onscreen for 0.28 seconds.

So I'm probably going to be around for Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse to be released … sometime in the future.

No Hard Feelings

[3 stars] [IMDB Link]

(paid link)

After a boring couple hours of sitting by the front door awaiting trick-or-treaters, I was (apparently) in the mood for a dumb sex comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence. She plays Maddie, a Long Islander in desperate financial straits. Her failure to pay property taxes on the house her mother left her causes her car to be impounded, which puts her further behind: she's an Uber driver. (She's also a part-time bartender, catering to the summer tourist trade, but judging by her surly behavior, she's unlikely to get many tips.)

Possible salvation comes in the form of a semi-sleazy online ad: a local couple is concerned that their college-bound son, Percy, is too introverted and unsocial to make a go of it at Princeton, where he's matriculating in a few weeks. They're looking for a young sex worker to "date" Percy. (Yes, apparently they put "date" in quotes like that. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.) Even though Maddie is a little older than they want, she seems up for it. She will get a used Buick Regal in return! But a requirement is imposed: Percy must not know what's going on.

This is your go-to movie to see Ms. Lawrence naked, to view her lap-dancing talents (but not at the same time), see her smoking pot, and to hear her use the f-word a lot. Such is the state of romantic comedy these days. Other than all the general smuttiness, the movie follows a pretty standard story arc, and there are no plot twists you won't see coming.

Fast X

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Way back in the mists of misty time, when giants walked the earth, Pun Son and I went to a couple of Fast and Furious movies. We kind of lost interest after two. But in the meantime there have been eight(!) installments in the series. And, I believe it's fair to say, each one piling on the special effects, ludicrous plots, off-the-wall violence, and (above all) elaborate car chase scenes. Ones that make Bullitt and The French Connection look like short hops to the grocery store.

But I was facing a 4.5 hour jetBlue redeye from Los Angeles back to Boston, I wasn't that sleepy, and in the mood for something real dumb after spending the weekend in the company of very smart people. The jetBlue A321 Airbuses have very good seatback entertainment systems, so…

In addition to the bigger budget, the franchise has also accumulated a raft of new continuing characters; I assume this has all been common knowledge to the fans. There's Dom, of course, Vin Diesel, an implacable force of nature, who's developed a human side, gotten a cute son. And Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez. But also appearing (some in bit parts and flashbacks) are Rita Moreno, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Charlize Theron, John Cena, Helen Mirren, Brie Larson, Pete Davidson, Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson, and … oh, yeah, everyone's favorite Latin American slimeball villain, Joaquim de Almeida.

And also Jason Momoa, inserted into the series as Dante, son of Joaquim de Almeida, who was … oh, yeah, killed off already in the 2011 movie. But Dante's looking for revenge against Dom and his team, and his family. He is very resourceful, for example, he's able to filch a "neutron mine", a weapon of mass destruction that he plans to threaten Rome with. But that's an early scene.

If you would like to know just how ludicrous this franchise is—hey, I wonder if Ludacris was added to the franchise because the producers liked his name—this Slate article will bring you up to (heh) speed. Explained a lot for me, but literally more than I wanted to know.

Worse: the movie is a setup for a sequel, due out in 2025. I suppose I have to watch it now…

The Big Bus

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

My movie mood was leaning toward "dumb and funny", so I picked this blast from the past. And shelled out $3.99 to Amazon for the privilege. I saw it when it came out in 1976, and not since. Although it's still funny in spots, my memory was overly rosy.

An opening prologue references the movies parodied here: "There have been Movies about Big Earthquakes . . . There have been Movies about Big Boats sinking . . . Movies about Big Buildings burning . . . Movies about Big German Balloons busting . . . And now a Movie about . . .". And (amazingly) this movie was made before Airplane!. They don't make 'em like this any more, do they?

Joseph Bologna plays Dan, a bus driver down on his luck, reviled by his peers for a past catastrophe in which bus passengers were eaten by crash survivors. But Dan himself was cleared, since he was unaware of the ingredients of the stew his co-driver prepared. ("You eat one lousy foot and they call you a cannibal!")

He gets a chance at redemption when his ex-fiancee, Kitty (Stockard Channing) importunes him to take "Cyclops", the titular nuclear-powered one-headlight vehicle, on its maiden nonstop voyage from New York to Denver. Complication: an oil magnate will stop at nothing to sabotage the bus. A careless hillbilly causes a collision. The bus (literally) teeters on the edge of disaster. And (of course) both crew and passengers are a colorful lot.

But I fell asleep on the sofa with about 20 minutes left in the movie. Fortunately, Amazon lets you back up.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

[4.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I went to the Strand Theater in Dover (NH) to see this movie when it came out back in 2005, and I remembered enjoying it quite a bit. And the Writer/Director, Shane Black, went on to direct the best (imho) Iron Man movie, that would be number three (your mileage may vary, but shouldn't). (Black also had an impressive run of writing action movies, see his IMDB résumé.)

I was under the impression, a few years back, that eventually any movie or TV show that ever was would be available to stream via some provider, at a reasonable monthly fee. David Janssen's short-lived private eye classic Harry O. The goofy comedy The Big Bus. Ken Russel's surrealistic musical comedy The Boy Friend. And …

Well, wasn't I was a starry-eyed optimist. If anything, trends seem to be going the other way, with services pulling shows and movies off their lists. And adding advertising to what's left.

But I wanted to see this bad enough to send Amazon an extra $3.99.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays Harry, a small-time New York crook who, by sheer accident, gets hired for a movie role out in LA. There he meets Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) who is supposed to be tutoring him for his part. And is reunited with a childhood acquaintance, Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), who's looking to make her mark in Hollywood as well. But pretty soon, Perry and Harry accidentally witness a murder while on a stakeout.

The plot is very complicated, self-concious, and ludicrous. And a lot of fun. Downey and Kilmer are great.

Nice touch: this noirish movie has acts with titles stolen drawn from Raymond Chandler books.

Emily the Criminal

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Alternate title: Looking for Mr. Goodscam.

I decided I shouldn't watch so many Big Dumb Movies. So I watched this free-to-me on Netflix; it's a Little Dumb Movie. And it has Aubrey Plaza in it; she's easier on the (heterosexual male) eyes than Gerard Butler.

She plays the titular Emily. Right off the bat, it appears she's got problems with honesty and temper, as she botches a job interview by failing to disclose a past felony conviction for assault. She has a low-paying catering delivery job, and (as a result) is falling behind on her student loan payments. She's also prone to abusing substances, and making bad decisions.

So when she gets a tip about a gig buying expensive electronics with stolen credit card numbers, she takes a toe-dip into criminality. Her mentor is a charismatic Lebanese guy, Youcef, and he keeps introducing her to riskier schemes with a higher payoff. And (as it develops) a greater chance of violence. As noted above, Emily has a temper, especially when she feels she's been wronged.

It's definitely watchable. But, of course, there's a Deeper Lesson, and the movie beats the viewer over the head with it:

Well I guess five examples is enough, although Google tells of more. If you're looking for a more market-friendly critique, here's Hollywood in Toto:

The film doubles as a critique of modern capitalism, suggesting the current system is “rigged” against its own citizens.

Reality is more complicated, of course, and college graduates shouldn’t expect to lead their best lives in a New York Minute. That explains why the film can’t stick with reality long enough to make us care for the titular “Criminal.”

If you are a John Billingsley or Gina Gershon fan, they have brief roles as soul-crushing, dream-trashing capitalist exploiters.

I was also planning on watching Nomadland, but I think I'll have to watch some more Big Dumb Movies first.

Last Modified 2023-09-18 7:26 AM EST

London Has Fallen

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I was (once again) in the mood for a Big Dumb Movie and went for the sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, which I watched last month.

Slight spoiler: the setting is … London, England! World leaders are in town for the funeral of the unexpectedly-dead Prime Minister. But it's all a plot, meticulously designed by a terrorist/arms dealer who seeks revenge for a drone strike on (what turned out to be) a wedding party, killing his just-married daughter. I think. Because basically that's just the excuse for staging a bunch of explosions, gunfights, car chases, more explosions, fisticuffs, helicopter crashes, …

But the first twenty minutes or so of the movie are relatively peaceful (except for that spoiled party), with establishing family man/Secret Service agent Mike Banning's (Gerard Butler) relationships with his pregnant wife and the President (Aaron Eckhart) and Vice President (Morgan Freeman).

But once that's done with, we are never more than a few minutes from impressive amounts of violence and action. Mike has to get the President to safety, but that's made extremely difficult by the (literally) hundreds of terrorists with prescient knowledge of security weaknesses, escape routes, and safe houses. There's a mole, of course.

I Care a Lot

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [I Care a Lot]

It's pretty clear from the get-go that Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) has got a pretty nasty scam going. Her opening voiceover soliloquy establishes that she divides the world into "Predators and prey. Lions and lambs." And she's determined to be the former. Her lucrative business model: in league with a crooked doctor, an ex-cop girlfriend, a shady nursing home, and a complaisant judge, she gets appointed as legal guardian of elderly folk with high net worth. And proceeds to isolate them from friends and family and loot their estates.

In short, this is not a great advertisement for American elderly care.

But Marla may have made a mistake in picking her latest victim, Jennifer (Dianne Wiest). Oh, Jennifer gets shuffled off to the nursing home easily enough. But it turns out she has lots of secrets, including a bag full of diamonds squirreled away in a safe deposit box, and a secret connection to a shady mobster (Peter Dinklage). This predator/prey thing works fine, I guess, until and unless you run afoul of another predator.

IMDB classifies its genres as "comedy, crime, drama". But (be warned) the comedy is as black as Lutheran church-basement coffee. And Netflix adds on the "LGBTQ+" genre, based (I guess) on the lesbian relationship between Marla and her partner in crime. (Is it a bold move to make the villains homosexual?)

Olympus Has Fallen

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Yes, I'm still in my Big Dumb Movie mode. And (also) yes, it's only been a few days since I watched White House Down, a remarkably similar movie to this one. Both were made in 2013. This bit of IMDB trivia claims both movies were based on the same Vince Flynn book. (Flynn died in 2013, but apparently not from suffocating under the huge piles of cash Hollywood dumped on him.)

The broad strokes are the same: both feature an ultraviolent White House takeover aided by a traitor inside the building. The perpetrators advertise one motive to the public, but actually have an even more dastardly plan. There's a kid in danger. The evildoers are thwarted by an outsider with unexpected talents.

I liked this one a bit better. It's rated R, while White House Down garnered a PG-13. Why? The language is saltier, and there's more violence, and a lot of it's pretty explicit. And it seemed that White House Down was considerably jokier, if that makes sense.

Heart of Stone

[2 stars] [IMDB Link] [Heart of Stone]

Free to me on Netflix. And that's Gal Gadot. So let's check it out!

Well, fine. It's not as if I was going to do anything worthwhile.

Ms. Gadot plays Rachel, an MI6 operative, member of a team on a mission to abduct a terrorist, or something. She's a computer geek, and is repeatedly warned to "stay in the van" and not participate in the active bits of the mission. Which means (of course) that she does.

But wait a minute! Rachel turns out to be actually working for "Charter", an even more secretive organization looking to keep the world safe from evildoers. They are aided in this by the "Heart" a supercomputing gizmo that has illicit access to All The World's Data, and can analyze it to detect threats and generate strategies to thwart them.

And the Heart is ensconced in the "Locker", a giant blimp kept 85,000 feet above the surface. Yes, that's an excuse for a Big Action Scene at some point.

In fact the entire stupid plot is an excuse for Big Action Scenes. Explosions, gunplay, chases, … you know the drill. If you're in the mood for that sort of thing, this is the kind of thing you're in the mood for. I felt a little guilty, myself. A better movie would have made me care about what happened.